Nevada high court says portions of gun permit records public

Miranda Fleschert | Freedom of Information | Feature | July 9, 2010

Nevada's high court has ruled that the identities of concealed gun permit holders and records related to the permit's current status are public records under state law despite an exemption that makes the application for a permit confidential.

Though applications for a concealed-carry permit are exempt from disclosure under the Nevada Public Records Act, the court ruled on July 1 that the exemption did not include every detail related to a granted permit, including the name of the permit holder and whether or not the permit had been investigated, revoked or suspended. The court said the records could still be subject to redaction, however, if they contain confidential information otherwise exempt from disclosure such as information taken from the original permit application or the pre-permit investigation process.

“We conclude that the identity of the permittee of a concealed firearms permit, and any post-permit records of investigation, suspension or revocation, are not declared explicitly to be confidential,” wrote Justice James Hardesty in the unanimous opinion.

The case stemmed from a dispute between the Reno Gazette-Journal and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office over whether records related to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons’ concealed firearms permit must be released under the state's open records law.

The Gazette-Journal in March 2008 requested records related to the governor’s gun permit after learning that it had allegedly been revoked based on inaccuracies in the application that he submitted. Sheriff Mike Haley denied the newspaper's request, claiming that the records were exempt under a provision in the state public records law that expressly designates concealed gun permit applications as confidential. When a lower court ruled that “the entirety of the post-application records” were exempt under the law, the newspaper appealed.

In overturning that decision, the high court relied heavily on the fact that “Nevada's concealed firearms statutes repeatedly recognize a difference between an applicant and a permittee,” and that the statute contains a presumption of openness, whereas exemptions must be construed narrowly.

“If the Legislature had intended post-application information about a permit's status to be confidential, it could and would have stated that, but it did not,” Hardesty wrote.

The court disagreed with the argument that all records related to a concealed firearms permit are necessarily confidential because they are derivative of the original application made private under the law.

“The Nevada Public Records Act addresses this situation and recognizes that public documents may contain confidential information,” Hardesty wrote. “In the event that public records contain confidential information, the Legislature has provided that the records should be redacted and the remaining document open to inspection.”

The high court sent the case back to the lower court and ordered it to redact the information considered private under the public records law -- including the confidential application material -- instead of denying access to every record related to the permit.